October 5th, 2009

VASIMR Plasma Rocket Passes Power Test, Announces Launch Date Popular Science

Spacecraft headed to Mars or beyond may harness a new source of propulsion that could refuel almost anywhere in the solar system. Last week, the VASIMR prototype plasma rocket achieved 200 kilowatts of power, the milestone the team was striving for. Now they are beginning development of a flight-capable version, slated for launch in 2013.
Rockets since the dawn of the space age have relied on burning solid or liquid chemical propellants very quickly to reach high velocities. By contrast, the plasma rocket uses an electric power source to ionize fuels such as hydrogen or helium into superheated plasma, and then directs the plasma with magnetic fields in the proper direction to create thrust.

January 13th, 2009

Getting Ready for the Mars Migration Popular Science

The Mars Desert Research Station, located in the Utah desert near the town of Hanksville, is a simulated Mars habitat that serves as a testbed for field operations studies in preparation for future human missions to Mars.
Volunteer crews live at the station, testing habitat design features and technologies. From December 27 to January 2, six college students served as the MDRS crew, as participants in NASA’s Spaceward Bound program.

November 21st, 2008

Nuclear Moon Bases Popular Science

When lunar astronauts flick on their televisions after a long day of prospecting, they’ll have a trashcan-size nuclear reactor to thank for their nightly dose of prime time. NASA, looking past the already daunting task of simply getting humans to the moon by 2020, recently started considering proposals for ways to power lunar habitats. Batteries and fuel cells provide only short-term solutions. Solar power would be limited where a single night lasts as long as 354 hours. So space-agency officials have started making plans to go nuclear.
The outline for the Fission Surface Power (FSP) plan is fairly straightforward: An underground, uranium-powered nuclear reactor produces heat and drives a power converter to generate electricity. The nuke plant would churn out 40 kilowatts of electricity, enough power to provide life support to four astronauts with plenty left over to mine oxygen from lunar soil and run moon buggies.

October 14th, 2008

Inflatable Surveillance Balls for Mars Popular Science

By next fall, NASA plans to launch its biggest Red Planet rover yet, the $1.8-billion, SUV-size Mars Research Laboratory. Even though the MRL will be able to haul five times as much equipment as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers that are already on Mars, a group of Swedish researchers say that they could accomplish far more if accompanied by a squad of helper ’bots. Fredrik Bruhn, the CEO of Ångström Aerospace Corporation, and his colleagues have designed the small inflatable scouts to assist bigger, less mobile rovers in their hunt for signs of microbial life on Mars.
Each foot-wide, 11-pound ball can roll up to 62 miles, snap photos at any angle, and take soil samples, drawing its power from the solar panels on its shell. Unlike wheeled rovers, the rounded scouts have fewer motors to repair, never flip over, and are easier to seal from dust. Plus, they rarely get stuck. “The beauty of the system is it needs very little energy to go around rocks, so unless you’re landing on a surface that looks like a bed of nails, it should be fine,” Bruhn says.

February 14th, 2005

The Five-Billion-Star Hotel Popular Science

Robert Bigelow is a trim 60 years old with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and a matching mustache. He shepherds visitors through his 50-acre, three-building, 56-employee R&D facility, Bigelow Aerospace, on the outskirts of Las Vegas with the quiet confidence of a man who knows exactly what he is doing.

August 10th, 2004

Making Steel with Beach Sand Popular Science

Thermite powder yields pure, white-hot iron when lit. Don’t try this one at home.

April 6th, 2004

If we can’t freeze people on Earth, don’t try it in space Popular Science

A reader inquires: “Why can’t we put people into some sort of cryogenic sleep and launch them to Mars — or to an even more distant destination, like Alpha Centauri?”

August 6th, 2003

NASA draws up blueprints for a deep-space mission simulator Popular Science

On August 27, Mars will be closer to Earth than at any point in the past 73,000 years. That’s good news for amateur astronomers, but it won’t make a manned mission to the Red Planet any easier. For that, NASA has earmarked an initial $2 million to build the Integrated Human Exploration Mission Simulation Facility, dubbed Integrity, at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.

June 15th, 2002

Is the Red Planet White or Blue? Popular Science

For years, scientists thought that Mars was a cold, dry planet. But pictures sent back by the Mars Global Surveyor over the past three years have rocked that long-held view. Now, many scientists think that the planet may in fact have once been a warm, wet world

March 13th, 2002

Go Somewhere! (Op/Ed) Popular Science

Houston, you have a problem. It’s a problem that isn’t fixable with duct tape and a carbon dioxide filter. And the problem isn’t just with Houston; it also affects Cape Canaveral, Cleveland, Huntsville, Pasadena, Washington, D.C.